Q&A with Tecumseh Court
Why aren't we giving Ukraine the weapons they want?
Dear Tecumseh Court,
Why haven’t we given Ukraine aircraft and modern anti-missile weapons, tanks, or anti-ship equipment, as they’re asking? If we don’t want to enforce a no-fly zone, what weapons could we send so that Ukraine can enforce its own? Why aren’t we sending them?
H.E. Stanhope MOLYNEUX1
Dear Mr. MOLYNEUX,
I’ll assume by “we” you mean NATO. As the readers of the Cosmopolitan Globalist know, unfortunate fissures are unfolding among member states concerning the risks they’re willing to take. We’ve discussed the significance of NATO’s supply lines extensively, so I won’t cover old ground. Politics and proximity both affect the way NATO supports Ukrainian logistics.
We shouldn’t assume that public reports account for everything we’re dispatching. Much is becoming obvious about the military supplies we’ve so far sent to Ukraine, but there’s much we don’t yet know. Ukrainian air space remains contested. Ukrainian air defenses are degraded, but not completely destroyed. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Equipment isn’t useful if you don’t know what to do with it. (Remember the advice: Don’t take what you can’t use.) So we need to find out: What systems are Ukrainians trained to use? What can they operate? Are the people who know how to do it still alive? If not, who can we train, and how long will it take? This is probably why we’re hearing reports, for example, that Slovenia offered their S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Ukraine in exchange for NATO backfill (and presumably training, if we plan to send them a different system). Air defense systems aren’t point-and-click like NLAWs, SMAWs and Javelins. Would you know how to use an S-300 air defense system? I wouldn’t. Not many people do.
If Ukrainians have the manpower and technical competency, there’s no reason why NATO can’t or shouldn’t send air defense and anti-ship missiles. I’ve seen reports indicating that NATO is deliberating sending these systems.
But we can’t neglect NATO’s own security. A few days ago, Ukrainians happened upon a mysterious, abandoned Russian vehicle on the outskirts of Kyiv. It appears to have been a Krasukha-4 command module—an advanced electronic warfare system. This shouldn’t affect deliberations about sending anti-ship missiles. Nonetheless, while some weapons should go to Ukraine, others are best left in Poland.
I wouldn’t send the Ukrainians tanks. They don’t need them and don’t have time to train to use them. Don’t listen to what Zelensky (or anyone else) says they want. They’re doing their jobs by asking and doing it damned well. I don’t fault them for a second for making these public requests. They should ask for tanks, airplanes, air defenses, no-fly zones, nukes—ask for everything, and God bless you for asking. But we don’t need to say yes and we shouldn’t just because they asked. Don’t send the Ukrainians anything they don’t need or can’t use, or anything we can use more effectively away from the battlefield (like, perhaps, an electronic warfare system).
Other considerations are of greater significance than sending Ukraine new weapon systems. Their most important equipment is starting to run thin. Javelins and Stingers need to be rebuilt, reassembled, and resupplied, and the rare minerals required to build them don’t materialize out of thin air. The US Defense Department’s Stinger production line had been shut down. It’s only now being restarted. I’m more concerned about the basics: Getting the relevant industries on a wartime footing, and maintaining secure supply lines, fuel stores, and the maintenance cycle.
I facepalmed when I read that missile strikes had hit fuel depots in Lviv followed by words to this effect: “Clearly, Putin wanted to send Biden a message.” Maybe, but Putin also wanted to hit a fuel depot. In war, fuel depots matter more than whatever message journalists think they’re reading between the lines. Yes, I’d like the Ukrainians to have the Polish MiGs, too, but that’s not going to preserve Ukrainian gains or shift the tide. More of what’s already proven effective might.
Dear Tecumseh Court,
We know that the first casualty when war comes is truth. What do you look at to see how the war is really going, as opposed to the propaganda?
Miss Valerie M. GATFIELD
Dear Miss GATFIELD,
Just as people have individual leadership styles, we all develop personal styles for gathering, sorting, and evaluating useful information and sifting it from boasts. Some guidelines:
Never use television news as your primary source. Watch as little as possible. Even the best show is subjected to the demands of a production cycle that ensures material is rushed and simplified. It’s useful for learning what everyone else is talking about, and that’s it.
What everyone is talking about or reading does not reflect, one way or another, how the war is going.
As you assess information, keep in mind the relevant centers of gravity and critical vulnerabilities. Ask how those map to what you’re reading or hearing.
Remember that for every fact you can confirm, there are two you can’t, another two you don’t know, and another three you didn’t even know you should know.
The best sources will share what they’ve directly experienced—no more, no less. For two recent examples, see Elliot Ackerman in The Atlantic about the foreign fighters he’s met in Lviv2 and Andy Milburn’s dispatch in Task & Purpose about the mood in Kyiv following Russia’s announcement that the capital is no longer the Russian army’s main objective. There are others who do this well, and I admit I’m biased because I’ve followed their careers for some time. But you can immediately tell these are trustworthy voices because they discipline themselves to reporting firsthand observations.
In addition to your social media feed and the CG’s daily dispatches, find a good daily news aggregator, like the front page on Real Clear Defense, that chooses articles reporting facts over narratives. The Institute for the Study of War has published regular operational assessments since the war started. They’re very helpful.
Remember that what world leaders say rarely reflects how the war is going. (Zelensky is an exception, because he defeats Russia every day simply by being alive.) Russia’s latest ruse—“We’re abandoning Kyiv for the Eastern Front”—proves they’re still masters of information warfare and the media is still vulnerable to it. Statements like that lead Westerners to think, “Oh, maybe this is almost over.” Don’t fall for them.
Dear Tecumseh Court,
What should NATO’s response be if the Russians use a tactical nuclear weapon?
Zachary T. MACAULEY
Dear Mr. MACAULEY,
Is the suffering Russia has so far wrought upon Ukraine less or more than the effect of a tactical nuke? Or that of a chemical or biological weapon?
Does the answer to that question influence the way you think about NATO’s response?
TC’s recommended reading
Why is Zelenzky calling for a no-fly zone? So that instead Biden will invoke the Defense Production Act to get this fixed:
Pentagon scrambles to replenish weapons stocks sent to Ukraine. Lawmakers want the US to make more missiles, but companies will wait until they have contracts before cranking up production.
A sobering, if reasonable, tactical assessment:
“They own the long clock.” How the Russian military is starting to adapt in Ukraine:
The Russians are already adapting, and by doing so are narrowing the Ukrainians’ tactical edge. The one-sided culling of Russian armored columns that characterized the opening days of the war, and kept YouTube subscribers around the world happy, are a thing of the past. The Russians now lead their formations with electronic attack, drones, lasers and good-old-fashioned reconnaissance by fire. They are using cruise missiles and saboteur teams to target logistics routes, manufacturing plants, and training bases in western Ukraine. Realizing that the Ukrainians lack thermal sights for their stinger missile launchers, the Russians have switched all air operations to after dark. It may be for this same reason that Russian cruise missile strikes in western and southern Ukraine have also been at nighttime.
Note: Unless they affirmatively indicate that they would like us to use their real names, we assign our correspondents pseudonyms from the 1922 London telephone directory. We indicate the use of a pseudonym by capitalizing the surname.
This article might be titled, “WAR 101—applied.”